An Ear obstinate to Knowing (or An Ear determined to know

Aural Bliss and Affect in Lod’s The Attendants’ Gallery – Stories of Europe Pieter Verstraete Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis, Theatre Studies, University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Paper for the ASCA International Workshop ‘Inside Knowledge: (Un)doing Methodologies, Imagining Alternatives’, 28-30 March 2007

The recent multidisciplinary performance The Attendants’ Gallery – Stories of Europe (2006-2007) by the Ghent-based music theatre company Het Muziek Lod in Belgium artistically embodies a nexus of ideas that are at issue in this conference. The performance is staged as a ‘living museum’ of objects, images, stories, ideas presented by actors coming from different countries in the margins of Europe: Slovenia, Lappland, Portugal, Romania and Ireland. Dressed as gallery attendants they appear to claim their marginal status within the museum space – a space that epitomizes Western culture’s saturation of images – and from that position they speak up to give their point of view on European history. As the performance unfolds into a more casual museum night, these gallery attendants leave their invisible places from where they safeguard the art works to add their personal stories to the objects, as they have lived these récits across borders that are slowly dissolving. Integral to the performance is the music (composed by Dick van der Harst) and the traditional songs that the actors contributed together with their stories. The music seems to tell thereby a different story in a non-verbal language, but also adds an affective layer at times by freezing the narrative. In this way, the performance stimulates me to discuss how the encounter with the ‘other’ can raise critical questions about the limitations to knowing the other and ‘otherness’ through the act of listening and our senses. My main concern is therefore the ear with its different epistemological modes of listening as it tries to ‘read’ what it hears, ‘hunting’ for information. Though The Attentants’ Gallery as theatrical ‘spectacle’ appeals to a Cartesian disembodied eye eager to know, it also calls for an embodied way of listening as discursive and selfconscious act that falters and fails in its encounter with the ‘otherness’ by its own act. I will discuss this failure in light of Le Plaisir du texte (1973), in which Roland Barthes discusses a similar stratagem in an encounter with narrative and image leading to moments of pleasure and bliss. Accordingly, in the performance each story and song by the attendants is accompanied by images. I will discuss to what extent


Barthes’ ‘bliss’ is a useful concept to conceptualize affective and discursive listening, without treating them as opposing categories. I am particularly interested to see how in the performance the ‘failure’ (or collapse) in the encounter with the other leads to knowledge about listening in music theatre, and about affect and narrative in general. For this purpose, I will engage with the theatre production as a work of art and a text that embodies knowledge in its hybridity towards the senses. As the programme brochure states, the hybrid relations between music, image and narrative/words should call for an experience in which one has to ‘submit to’ the impressions of the different cultures in their heterogeneity and alterity rather than understanding every word of it. This however asks for a critical appraisal, for which I will read Barthes’ seminal text through Derek Attridge’s article on otherness in the act of writing. This enables me to regard listening and sensing in terms of co-creating signification and relating to the other, which are intrinsically connected. As to the ear and its epistemological modes in this co-creative act, I will further refer to ideas by Steven Connor, Michel Chion and Arthur Kroker about the insufficiency and instability of listening, guided by the question: what do these theories and concepts do to my reading of the performance; and conversely, how does the performance respond to them in its specific economy of pleasure between knowing and not-knowing? Inside an ear The text of The Attendants’ Gallery – Stories of Europe consists of the stories by the performers themselves and some short texts by Pieter De Buysser, in which he gives a literal embodied account of Europe by focussing on one organ (resp. a heart, an ear and knees). The text of the ear is particularly interesting as it functions literally as an ear-opener. In my opinion, this ear both epitomizes an ‘ever-growing ear of European civilisation’ and stimulates a self-reflexive mode of perception. The Slovenian actress Damjana Černe (born in Croatia 1963) performs the text as if it were her own personal story:
I have to confess something. I was alone. For a very long time. The nights were getting longer and colder and I got lonelier. I found an ear. In Baudelaire. The beauty of Sophocles consoled me. I found a listening ear in Shakespeare and Voltaire. I read them and I spoke with them. They understood me. They listened to me. Dostoyevsky and Camus embraced and saw into my soul. The lonelier I was, the more I cried and complained, the bigger the ear came growing out of my bookshelf. […] At first I could lay my arm in it, and soon also my leg and after a short while, a second leg. The ear kept on growing. And I was happy! Never had I felt so understood, felt such an attention, such an understanding, such an attentive ear that was given to me. Me! […] But one day in the big ear I came across a painter. He wanted to catch reality in his paint, but in a different way, a new way, and he made me fatally in love with reality


and I knew now I want to begin again. I wanted to forget and be able to begin again under the sun. Just like that painter that saw black crows above a field that saw sunflowers, that desperate painter that wanted to start all over again and wanted to go, escaping his paint and his language and finally cuts off his ear to be able to completely completely restart again and again In the same way again as he wanted to start, I too took a knife and cut off my ear. It was gigantic. It covered nearly six football fields. I cut one small piece and this I always carry with me.

What first appears as a confession (the actress is talking into a slit as in a confession box) unfolds as a metaphorical story, which has significance for the whole performance. The pleasure of the text and the question of otherness seem to consolidate in the metaphor of the ever-growing ear. This ear creates a metonymic space within the narrative imagination, incorporating the whole of European civilization, culture, philosophy and literature (from Sophocles, through Shakespeare, Voltaire, Baudelaire, Dostoyevsky to Camus). The ear also presupposes receptivity and openness to the other as the nameless woman finds consolidation in it. In listening to this story, the listener can find a certain pleasure in listening to the narrative and grasping its double intention, or in listening to the Slovenian accent of the actor, which could create affective responses. I want to argue that there is a double consciousness for otherness at stake here: on a narrative plane on the one hand, and on an affective plane on the other. At the narrative level, the actor performs both a narrator of and a character within her story. But there is also the genuineness and straightforwardness of the performer on a performative level. The story about the ear of European civilization raises awareness for the otherness of the woman who feels misunderstood by society. This seems to be played out in the performance in a way that can be understood as ‘free indirect discourse’. In narrative theory, free indirect discourse (in line with Bakhtin’s definition) creates two inseparable but not fully realized subjects in a heterogeneous system: a character in the first person and another subject (a narrator) who brings him on the stage. Peter Rabinowitz (2004) states about this narrative device: “[T]here is always some ambiguity about the precise location of the line between the character and the narrator” (316). Monika Fludernik (2001) remarks in The Literary Encyclopedia that in free indirect discourse there is often ambiguity about whether it represents speech or an act of (internal) thought and about whom might be the author. Since the authoritative voice behind the metonymic story of the ear is suspended and since it is unclear whether the story is really the story of the performer or the character played by the actor, a similar ambiguity seems to call attention for the commutability of subjects. For Deleuze (1986), the use of free indirect discourse in cinema points out the ‘Cogito in art’: “[T]here is no subject which acts without another which watches it act, and which grasps it as acted, itself assuming the freedom of which it deprives the former” (Deleuze 73). Although this is 3

the basic mode of the theatrical contract between audience and performers, a similar alertness for the disembodied spectator is called upon here by means of the free indirect discourse in text and performance. The narrative mirrors the other on to us, asking for an engagement: the other is marked and spotted by the ear in each and one of us. Conceptually, ‘being inside the ear’ could be understood as a mode of being inside knowledge, privileging the one inside. Generally speaking, the ‘other’ is always in a perverse way ‘privileged’ by being inside and having ‘inside knowledge’: the one being inside has always more access to the truth by having the closest position to situated knowledge, however problematic that position may be. The ear seems to provide consolation and pleasure to the woman, who finally feels understood completely by reading the literary canon of European civilization. This inside position turns knowledge into ‘ac-knowledgement’. Painfully enough, this comfortable position is an immobile space of immersion where she can forget about herself, cut off from the outside world. But the story has a sudden twitch when it flows by association into the story of the painter Vincent Van Gogh and his cut-off ear. The act of cutting off the ear creates access to reality, caught in the image. This destructive act seems to enable a new beginning, a cleansing of the self. Whereas the feeling of being ‘completely understood’ inside the ear gives a sublime feeling of bliss and ‘jouissance’ (similar to Barthes’ pleasure of the text), the sudden cut seems to finally promise an opening up to an outside, to reality, reaching out to the other. The story of the ear, though metonymic and surreal, has its own mythical logic and suspense. Following Barthes’ understanding of narrative, the short story is anecdotal and plot-driven, episodic and sequential, propelled by suspense. The plot drives to that sudden ‘cut’ – epitomized by the ear of Vincent Van Gogh – that would make us take flight from the text and give in-sight onto reality, which is a reality of the other. The free indirect discourse, however, calls for a consciousness that the other is always an act and an event rather than an invariable identity as it is related to the self. In a similar way, Derek Attridge attests: “Otherness […] is produced in an active or eventlike relation – we might call it a relating: the other as other to is always and constitutively on the point of turning from the unknown into the known, from the other into the same” (Attridge 22). In this way, the narrative makes us recognise the familiar feelings of being misunderstood, the pleasure of the text that affects our selfhood, and a desire for the ‘cut’ that would enable us to start anew. The story connects us with the other and makes us aware of that connection, as ‘the other’ always presumes a relating. Through the narrative of the other, one comes to the self, or in Barthes’ words: “Isn’t storytelling always a way of searching for one’s origin, speaking one’s conflicts with the Law, entering into the dialectic of tenderness and hatred?” (47) The narrative, conversely, gets thickened with affect through the performance of Damjana Černe. Particularly her Slovenian accent and intonation could be 4

regarded in terms of Barthes’ preference for the sensuality of language, the articulation of the body through the vocal organs, or what he calls vocal writing (67). The actress’s pronunciation brings in ‘the other’ quite literally. ‘Otherness’ seems therefore also to be constituted in the discursive act of listening on an affective plain, raising awareness for how our ears relate to the other. Listening is both an event (receptivity) and an act (agency). Following Attridge’s line of reasoning, the act of listening could be understood as no pure volition, but no pure event either. In listening I recognise the known in the new; I comply with discursive practices and regimes of listening, but in my engagement to the ‘other’ I have to engage to “that which beckons or commands from the fringes of my mental sphere as I engage in a creative act” (Attridge 23). The affect in my discursive and ‘co-creative’ act of listening seems then to catch my attention suddenly and disjoins my habitual regimes of listening. In the following I will discuss how this otherness in musical performance and in, what we could call with Barthes’ notion, vocal writing is taken further on an affective level. The ‘otherness’ seems to be that which escapes our modes of understanding through listening, emphasizing the singularity and heterogeneity of what is expressed, which could cause pleasure or ‘aural bliss’. Following Barthes, I want to focus on how ‘bliss’ in listening functions affectively within the narrative but manages to sidetrack it. Or as Murat Aydemir (2003) eloquently expresses about narrative in relation to Barthes’ notion of bliss as affect: “Instead of the suspense of narrative, Barthes privileges the suspension of narrative. This affective force arrests narrative progression with a sudden stoppage, congealing or freezing its steady course” (Aydemir 168). In The Attendants Gallery, this suspension of narrative through affect is paramount in the discussion of the other. As discussed above, narrative and affect should not be regarded as antithetical of one another, but they follow different sensory tracks in their relation to significance, embodied experience, and to what can be known to the epistemological, self-conscious ear. Circuiting narrative with affect: Siding with looking or with listening? After this thumbnail analysis of a first significant moment in which the ear is made aware of itself in relation to the ‘other’, I want to draw on another highlight in the performance: the lament by Åsa Simma1. She sings traditional Saami ‘jojks’, songs that were taught to her clandestinely by her mother since they were forbidden by the government in her childhood. In her performance she seems to sing about her family in Swedish Lappland. Her story is not immediately legible though, as she sings in the Saami language without any translation or supertitles. Rather, the story is represented

According to her biography, it is Åsa Simma’s life project to make her Saami-roots known to the public through the singing of ‘jojks’. She is now artistic director of the Saami Theatre in Sweden.



by black figures on transparent slides attached to a lit screen (as in a shadow play)2. The actress stares right into the audience, which is sitting at eye-level around the performance space, while some of the musicians and actors either put or take away a slide one by one. As the slides are taken away, a culture appears to slowly dissolve. According to the brochure, which one can read after the performance, the stories are set during World War II. The first story is about some German soldiers who climbed over the fence between Norway and Sweden to go to Lappland and to trade their binoculars, helmets and a bag pack in change for deer meat. After that follows the story of her father who had to go every year to the Swedish Lapp financial controller to receive public funding for his village, but he always returned emptyhanded. When the financial controller after years of remorse came with a case of money, her father said that it was ‘too late’. The narrative is however not delivered to the audience in a straightforward way, as it is conveyed through the images (‘narrative figuration’) and the song by a narrator-performer, who sings and speaks in her language. This same procedure is also followed for the other stories: every actor was appointed one visual artist from the FRÉMOK ensemble to tell their personal stories. In this way, I want to regard how the story of Åsa Simma embodies both knowledge about a different history of Europe and a type of knowledge about how narrative and affect in conjunction with sound and image function within music theatre. If we regard Åsa Simma’s performance as a way of ‘vocal writing’ in Barthes’ sense, ‘a writing aloud’ so to speak, her singing would become an encounter with a text or the textuality of the work of art that performs the body rather than the meaning of the words:
“Due allowance being made for the sounds of the language, writing aloud is not phonological but phonetic; its aim is not the clarity of messages, the theater of emotions; what it searches for (in a perspective of bliss) are the pulsional incidents, the language lined with flesh, a text where we can hear the grain of the throat, the patina of consonants, the voluptuousness of vowels, a whole carnal stereophony: the articulation of the body, of the tongue, not that of meaning, of language. A certain art of singing can give an idea of this vocal writing” (Barthes 66-7).

In the context of the performance, the Saami ‘jojks’ (based on old Shamanistic trance songs) seem to affect the audience in a similar way, rather endowing them with pulses of affect than with a clear storyline or delineable emotion. The music affects and urges for an encounter with the other, leaving the listener with a feeling of not quite understanding, of unknowability.

The slides are made by the ‘comics’ publishing house and ensemble FRÉMOK (Olivier Deprez, Thierry Van Hasselt, Yvan Alagbé, Jean-Christophe Long, Dominique Goblet), based in Anderlecht and Montreuil in Belgium (



In my opinion, this unknowability could not only evoke ‘aural bliss’ but also a great deal of sensory distress, resulting in an undecidibility whether one should focus on the grains and affective impulses in the performance of the song or on the picturestory telling. The distress stems from the illegibility and lack of language in the song and its excess in terms of musical remainder. In effect, this distressing undecidibility could therefore either call upon a floating ear or an embodied ear. Both concepts occur in a rather throwaway remark by Arthur Kroker (1988):
“[T]he embodied ear struggles against the mirrored eye […] The floating ear may signify an ‘empty, symbolic exchange’ that specializes in the spatializations of a ‘pure, image-system’; but the embodied ear privileges corporeality, verticality of being, collective experience, and speech” (Kroker 93-4).

As the images appeal to the mirrored, optical eye and give in to the listener’s urge to complete what is left unspoken in the song, the ‘vocal writing’ in the singing could destabilize what is seen. A floating ear would then retreat the song into the background as ambience, giving it a locus and a source body. It could then function as an icon, or what Michel Chion (1994) has called an ‘ear-con’. An earcon is an auditory reference that is often juxtaposed to narrative functions, regarded that ambience is not necessarily imbued with narrativity but rather serves as ‘moodtrigger’ in a direct, ‘unmediated’ way. As the icon to the eye, the earcon defines a sound event as sign on the basis of a direct relationship to an image or particular action, and implies an immediate affective response. In this way, the song affects the listener, adding ambience to the story, such as a soundtrack to a cinematic image. However, in interpreting the song as an earcon the musical excess and the ‘language lined with flesh’ (Barthes 66) are filtered out for the sake of meaningful categories pre-existing to the experience. Embodied listening on the contrary would bring the listener in touch with the ‘otherness’ in listening to the extent that it allows the instability of that which continuously escapes the cogito, the grasp of the alreadyknown. An embodied ear holds therefore the promise of an encounter with the other in Attridge’s sense of relating: turning the experience from the unknown into the known (Attridge 22), but not without allowing the unknown in the first place. Kroker’s notion of an embodied ear fits further well with Barthes’ idea of vocal writing, privileging the corporeality, the physical dimension of the text or ‘speech’ without a legible tongue. Though the feeling of unknowability and undecidibility can be quite stressful and the urge for coherence or closure remains, this sensory distress can also cause pleasure: the pleasure of reading without really knowing. In this way, the combination of the Saami song with the picture narrative can be read by two systems of reading, according to Barthes: “one goes straight to the articulations of the anecdote, it considers the extent of the text, ignores the play of language […] the other reading skips nothing; it weighs, it sticks to the text, it reads, 7

so to speak, with application and transport, grasps at every point in the text the asyndeton: it is not (logical) extension that captivates it, the winnowing out of truths, but the layering of significance” (Barthes 12). Barthes essentially had in mind the reading of texts in a language that we can understand, but as I want to argue here, these two reading strategies could be extended to the listening act as well. The former reading would favour the reading of the images in terms of the narrative; the latter would read the asyndeton (parataxis without conjunctions) of sound and image, opening up to the surplus and the possible tensions between the expression and the performance in a pursuit to grasp without wanting to ‘winnow out the truth’. This ‘alternative’ way of listening holds a productive contradiction to what is most often presumed about the relationships of the eye and the ear (or ‘audiovision’). The scene bears therefore epistemological knowledge about looking in conjunction with listening in most music theatre. In an oversimplified distinction, the eye is focused, stabilizes, dissects and delineates, whereas the ear is rather passive towards the enveloping sound (physically not being able to shut the ear lobes). Theodor Adorno (1952) makes a similar distinction when discussing Wagner’s emancipation of the ear: “The eye is always the organ of effort, work, concentration; it apprehends something specific in an unambiguous way. The ear, in contrast, is unconcentrated and passive. Unlike the eye, it does not have to be opened” (Adorno 88-9). Such simplifications would make even Adorno’s epistemological ears curl and should be read in the context of his criticism on the technology of the senses in Wagner’s music drama. Correspondingly the songs in The Attendants’ Gallery do not dramatize any visual action, or allow you to sit back and absorb. Rather, the ear is active and asked for its full attention for the relations between what can be seen and what can(not) be understood acoustically. It is made aware of its discursive efforts and its inevitability to not quite succeed. According to Steven Connor (1997), listening is always insufficient. In this way, he describes the modern auditory self in terms of deficit or lack: “The sense of the insufficiency and insubstantiality of hearing makes the definition of the self through it a problem. How can the modern psyche be said to be organized around an ontology which is so regularly defined as the deficit of ontology?” (Connor 1997: 213). Read in the context of the performance, the deficit of the self’s ontology in listening is quite relevant in relating to the other. The notion of ‘otherness’ could create an impression of stability when referring to an existing human being in relation to oneself, but as embodied listening proves here, this stability is only based on a myth of ontology that is often nothing more than a deficit. As a consequence of Connor’s statement, ‘otherness’ could be understood as being inscribed in the listening act proper because of its insubstantiality and insufficiency, which makes it dependent on the completion by the other senses (Connor 1997: 220). Elsewhere Steven Connor (2005) refers to Merleau-Ponty’s distinction between looking and listening: “We do not inhabit the world of vision because our acts of looking are 8

constantly doing things to that world. Looking, as Merleau-Ponty has remarked, is a kind of having. Listening can only approximate to this appropriative hand-eye coordination” (Connor 2005: 51). Listening is therefore always in a relation with ‘otherness’, as it does not own and control its objects, but rather inhabits its space and partakes in its significance. As the picture story shows, looking could stabilize the song, provide it with a context, helping the listener to comply with a certain discourse or frame, but the images are not stable in themselves either and the narrative is not rendered in a oneto-one relationship. Rather, the conjunction of image and sound holds a promise of stability, which is necessarily destabilized through listening. In this context, Michel Chion (1994) significantly states:
“But listening, for its art, explores, in a field of audition that is given or even imposed on the ear; this aural field is much less limited or confined, its contours uncertain and changing. […] There is always something about sound that overwhelms and surprises us no matter what – especially when we refuse to lend it our conscious attention; and thus sound interferes with our perception, affects it. Surely, our conscious perception can valiantly work at submitting everything to its control, but, in the present cultural state of things, sound more than image has the ability to saturate and short-circuit our perception” (Chion 1994: 33).

Chion seems to hint here at sound’s propensity to affect and short-circuit our perceptive system. The embodied ear equally carries the potential of unpredictable shock through affect: a shock to narrative, or to thought. In this way, music theatre often cultivates a certain experience of bliss in short-circuiting meanings through thrilling shocks, impulses, goose bumps, etc. But there is something highly problematic in Barthes’ notion of ‘bliss’ when it comes to denote a subdued state of timed but continued gratification and ecstasy in the encounter between the ‘text of bliss’ and its reader, rather than rapture as a momentary ‘flash’ of joy taking you outside yourself. Barthes defines the ‘text of bliss’ as “the text that imposes a state of loss, the text that discomforts (perhaps to the point of a certain boredom), unsettles the reader’s historical, cultural, psychological assumptions, the consistency of his tastes, values, memories, brings to a crisis his relation with language” (Barthes 14). Likewise, the Saami song unsettles the listener’s relation to language. Barthes defines ‘bliss’ in terms of loss and collapse against a consistency of selfhood. In this way, (aural) bliss can lead to a constant repositioning and ‘relating’ between the self and the other, which could happen when listening to the Saami song as a ‘text of bliss’. Aural bliss can confront the listener with an outside to (narrative) cohesion. But there is a danger too of staying inside the text of bliss in a desire for continuous satisfaction, much in line with the initial story of the ear. The text of bliss, according to Barthes, is therefore an ‘untennable’, 9

‘impossible text’ because it is “outside any imaginable finality” (51), “outside pleasure, outside criticism, unless it is reached through another text of bliss: you cannot speak ‘on’ such a text, you can only speak ‘in’ it, in its fashion, enter into a desperate plagiarism, hysterically affirm the void of bliss (and no longer obsessively repeat the letter of pleasure)” (22). ‘Bliss’ seems to face here its own untenable ‘other’ in its extreme form. It poses an epistemological problem when it reaches a point beyond criticism. The autonomy of affect poses a threat to the dialogue and the ‘relating’ with the other, when it goes beyond rational communication. This could be a pose of the other in order not to be judged. It could be part of a trauma structure in the ‘other’, where there is no possibility to think outside of the trauma itself. As the first story of the ear of civilization already brought to light, a knowledge that finds resonance inside the ear can give a feeling of consolidation and understanding, but cannot communicate to an outside if it cannot but be perceived from inside. This poses a limit to Åsa Simma’s ‘jojks’ as an act of vocal writing too and this limitation concerns any political reading of the personal stories and songs in this performance. If bliss is as an effect of being aurally swept away through the circuiting of affect with narrative while affect manages to sidetrack it, any affective and effective engagement with the other is only possible when it escapes bliss. Instead of a collapse or loss of self, ‘otherness’ asks for a negotiation between the self and the other. In Åsa Simma’s performance, the body politics and the picture narrative seem to create the possibility of creating an otherness by relating to what we emotionally and semantically can relate to. In this way awareness is created, as Attridge formulates: “not just that words consist of sounds and shapes but also that these sounds and shapes are nexuses of meaning and feeling and hence are deeply rooted in culture, history, and the varieties of human experience” (Attridge 26-27). The story, the body gestures and images hold the key to unlock the door to an outside, to an encounter with a different culture. Rewriting history through narrative and embodied listening The Attendants’ Gallery aims at a ‘rereading’ of European history, as the theatre makers claim in the brochure. The motto is therefore fittingly by Oscar Wilde: “The one duty we owe to history is to rewrite it”. Through the songs, music, visual works of art and personal stories through the point of view of the marginalized minority, the theatre makers attempt to give a different account of 20th century Europe, as a living and embodied memory. The museum context stages the stories as a gallery of memories and autobiographical memoirs. As I discussed above, in its engagement with the other through narrative and musical affect, it is a self-conscious theatre and through its performative mode of free indirect discourse, it triggers and tunes different modes of looking and listening. Although it complies with certain conventions of reading images and staging narratives through text projections, it also tends to denaturalize these readings preposterously through music. The endeavour of 10

rereading history through musical performance therefore opens up an encounter with the other in the self and the otherness in listening. The latter reaches a level of selfawareness in Åsa Simma’s song when one realizes that we create the ‘other’ through our discursive acts of listening: thereby something of myself is created by the other in a reciprocal relation (Attridge 22). In the encounter with the other, we are confronted with what we can read and what we can conceive of as text (or textuality). The Attendants’ Gallery specifically aims at teasing out those moments of dense textuality by a ‘vocal writing’ that denies an immediate reading. In this way, it gives both conscious and affective impulses to the listener to discover what she or he does not or cannot know. Knowing that most of it you cannot know is precisely the attraction, the pleasure and the desire in the economies of bliss and distress between which this performance seeks its equilibrium. Music seems in this the middle voice, either narrativizing (in terms of cohesion, closure, stability) or causing shocks to narrative (instability, distress, bliss). The latter creates a feeling of enchantment through the invisible, the incomprehensible, the unknowable by suspending narrative and its compelling authoritative voice (through free indirect discourse). In the act of rewriting a history of Europe through ‘vocal writing’ and ‘embodied listening’, there is much recognition of the known as well as estrangement of the unknown. If we want to regard narrative as a privileged way to knowing, this performance demonstrates that narrative has to be regarded in conjunction with affect. Narrative and affect are not in opposition of one another as they both engage with signification sensually3. But what affect does to narrative, is that it implies a possibility, not a necessity of signification. Affect therefore sides with the concepts of ‘other’ and ‘otherness’: its autonomy makes it impenetrable to what I can know conceptually, to my epistemological self. Narrative and affect (especially ‘aural’ bliss) therefore create a split-subject, as Barthes seems to confirm: “this subject is never anything but a ‘living contradiction’: a split subject, who simultaneously enjoys, through the text, the consistency of his selfhood and its collapse, its fall” (Barthes 21). The epistemological ear and the embodied ear are in a same relation of interdependency. The epistemological ear takes pleasure when the body pursues its own ideas.4 Embodied listening does not imply a total absence of reading for signification either. The otherness in Åsa Simma’s song – or whatever text that marks its ‘alterity’ in language – calls for a pleasure of reading that embraces both, to the point of wonder for its unknowability. Derek Attridge concludes: “Reading involves working against the mind’s tendency to assimilate the other to the same, attending to that which can barely be heard,

In this sense, Roland Barthes remarks: “What is significance? It is meaning, insofar as it is sensually produced” (Barthes 61). Barthes clarifies in this respect: “The pleasure of the text is that moment when my body pursues its own ideas – for my body does not have the same ideas I do” (Barthes 17).


registering what is unique about the shaping of language, thought, and feeling in a particular work. Encountering the other in reading, the mind (understood in the broadest sense) lets itself be carried to the borders of its accustomed terrain by the text” (Attridge 25). It is perhaps in the encounter with the border of what can be known, that ‘other’ and ‘self’ finally meet. List of references
Adorno, Theodor. In Search of Wagner. Transl. Rodney Livingstone. With foreword by Slavoj Žižek. Orig. Versuch über Wagner, 1952. London, New York: Verso 2005. Attridge, Derek. “Innovation, Literature, Ethics: Relating to the Other”. PMLA Vol.114, No.1, Special Topic: Ethics and Literary Study, (Jan.1999): 20-31. Aydemir, Murat. “How to Come Differently: Barthes’ Bliss between Image and Narrative”. Travelling Concepts III: Memory, Narrative, Image, ed. Nancy Pedri. Amsterdam: ASCA Press 2003: 163-75. Barthes, Roland. The Pleasure of the Text. (Le Plaisir du texte, orgin.1973). Transl. Richard Miller. Oxford: Basil Blackwell 1990. Chion, Michel. Audio-Vision: Sound on Screen. Ed. & transl. Walter Murch & Claudia Gorbman. New York: Columbia University Press 1994. Connor, Steven. “The Modern Auditory I”. Rewriting the Self: Histories from the

Renaissance to the Present. Ed. Roy Porter. London & New York: Routledge 1997: 203-23. Connor, Steven. “Ears Have Walls: On Hearing Art”. Lecture given in the series Bodily Knowledges: Challenging Ocularcentricity, Tate Modern, 21 Feb. 2003. FO(A)RM 4 (2005): 48-57. Deleuze, Gilles. Cinema 1: The Movement-Image. Transl. Hugh Tomlinson & Barbara Habberjam. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press 1986. Fludernik, Monika. “Free indirect discourse”. The Literary Encyclopedia. 20 Oct. 2001. The Literary Dictionary Company. 2 February 2007. Online. Available FTP: Kroker, Arthur & David Cook. The postmodern scene: Excremental Culture and HyperAesthetics. London: MacMillan Education 1988.


Rabinowitz, Peter J. “Music, Genre, and Narrative Theory”. Narrative across Media: The Languages of Storytelling, ed. Marie-Laure Ryan. Nebraska Press 2004: 305-28. Lincoln and London: University of

Play list The Attendants’ Gallery: Stories of Europe
By LOD/Koen De Sutter & Dick van der Harst Concept Text Image Performance Music Dramaturgy Dick van der Harst (composer) & Koen De Sutter (director) Pieter De Buysser and actors Frémok: Olivier Deprez, Thierry Van Hasselt, Yvan Alagbé, Jean-Christophe Long, Dominique Goblet, assisted by Octave Staes Miles O’Shea, Åsa Simma, Paula Só, Levente Molnár, Damjana Černe Jean-Philippe Poncin, Dick van der Harst, Wim Konink, Gilles Repond, Kurt Budé Hans Van Dam

Still to be seen 5-6 May 2007 at Rotterdam Schouwburg; 8 May at Utrecht Schouwburg; 12 and 13 May at Amsterdam Schouwburg; and 15 May at Groningen Schouwburg